The female complainant in the Islamabad couple harassment case, who had backtracked from accusations of torture and sexual abuse by a gang allegedly led by Usman Mirza, reiterated in an Islamabad district and sessions court on Wednesday the retraction of her earlier statement and urged the court to grant her permanent exemption in the case.
The case came to surface in July 2021 when a video of a couple went viral on social media in which they were tortured, stripped and assaulted at gun point by four men who recorded their ordeal.
Mirza and his six accomplices have been indicted in the case: Hafiz Ataur Rehman, Adaras Qayyum Butt, Rehan, Umar Bilal Marwat, Mohib Bangash and Farhan Shaheen.
The suspects were initially booked under sections 341 (punishment for wrongful restraint), 354A (assault or use of criminal force against woman and stripping her of her clothes), 506 (ii) (punishment for criminal intimidation) and 509 (word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman) of the Pakistan Penal Code, read the report.
Later, sections pertaining to rape, sexual abuse, extortion, and wrongful confinement were also included in the first information report.
In a surprising turn of events on Jan 11, the female victim retracted her statement against the accused and informed the trial court that she did not wish to pursue the case.
The next day, the Parliamentary Secretary for Law and Justice Maleeka Bokhari announced that the state would pursue the case irrespective of the "recent developments relating to victim's testimony".
In Wednesday's hearing, chaired by Additional District and Session Judge Atta Rabbani, the woman complained that she was being pressurized repeatedly to pursue the case. "I have given the statement that I don't know anyone," she told the court.
At another point during the hearing, prosecutor Rana Hasan Abbas cross-examined the male victim and asked him to narrate the background of the incident.
"I cannot recall the exact details of the incident and also don't remember what shirt I was wearing that day," the victim said in response to a query from the prosecutor.
At this, the public prosecutor requested the court to play the video of the incident in the courtroom. The judge granted the request.
Later, during the cross-examination of the male victim, Sher Afzal, counsel for one of the suspects, Marwat, requested the court to replay the video and said he wanted to see the face of the man. The judge granted permission.
Meanwhile, the woman rejected allegations that she had sought Rs10 million from Marwat for her statement and said she was not in the video that was circulated on social media.
The police obtained "my fingerprints and signatures" on blank papers multiple times, she told the court. When the counsel for Marwat asked her whether she signed the papers under duress. To this, she responded: "I don't know."
Arbab Alam Abbas, her lawyer, intervened and requested the court to bar the defendant lawyer from repeating questions that had already been answered during previous hearings.
During the cross-examination, the woman said she was engaged to the man — the other victim seen in the video — and they tied the knot after the video surfaced.
An FIA expert had declared the video genuine and also verified that the face seen and voice heard in the video was hers, the accused's lawyer told the woman. At this, the woman said: "There are seven people of the same face in this world."
In response to that, the lawyer wondered that even if that were true, how were the voices an exact match as well.
The suspect's counsel then asked the male victim as to where he was slapped the most during the torture.
"I do not want to answer this," the victim responded. The lawyer urged the court to compel the witness to answer "or consider his refusal as the committing of the crime".
He insisted that he did not know the suspects, also stressing that he had not accepted any money to change his statement.
The lawyer asked why he had not informed the police about the torture he and his fiancée suffered.
"Nothing of that sort happened to us," he answered.
Later, the court adjourned the hearing of the case till January 25 following the conclusion of the defence counsel's cross-examination of the plaintiffs.
In the next hearing, the defendants' counsels will cross-examine the investigation officer of the case.
It is pertinent to mention that the judge on Tuesday issued non-bailable arrest warrants of the male and female victims of the case due to their absence in the court.